Health care law faces three days in court(bbg) (ATTN: National editors)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court review of President Barack Obama's health care law carries an unprecedented combination of economic, political and legal stakes.

The court, which holds three days of arguments next week, will determine the fate of a measure that would extend insurance to about 32 million people and revamp an industry that accounts for 18 percent of the U.S. economy.

Here are answers to questions about how the case will unfold:

What will happen during the six hours of arguments?

Public debate has focused on the Affordable Care Act's requirement that Americans either get insurance or pay a penalty. That's only one of four issues before the court.

The first day's arguments will center on a question that could scuttle the whole case. Under the 1867 Anti-Injunction Act, judges can't rule on challenges to federal taxes until the levies are assessed. A ruling that says the act applies would force postponement of the clash until after the first penalties are imposed in 2015.

The following day, the justices turn to the main issue: the insurance requirement. The Obama administration says Congress could enact that provision under either its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce or its authority to impose taxes.

On the third day, the court first will hear arguments on what happens to the rest of the law if the insurance requirement is found unconstitutional. Later, the court will take up whether the law, by expanding the Medicaid program, unconstitutionally coerces the states into spending more on health care for the poor.

Who is opposing the law?

Two groups are challenging parts of the law: Twenty-six Republican-controlled states, including Florida, plus the National Federation of Independent Business, a Nashville, Tenn.-based advocacy group for small business, and four of its members.

Who can attend?

Seating will be at a premium. The courtroom has space for about 500 people, and most of those seats will be filled by court employees, media and participants in the case. There will be space reserved for probably 75 lawyers admitted to practice before the Supreme Court.

For the general public, the court typically sets aside 50 seats — and lines have been known to start days in advance.

Will there be camera coverage? How about audio?

The court rejected media and lawmaker requests for television coverage. The justices have never allowed video coverage of their arguments.

The court will post the audio on its website each afternoon of the three-day argument — a change from the normal practice of releasing audio on a weekly basis.

What are the most important constitutional issues?

The fate of the insurance requirement will turn on the court's interpretation of three parts of the Constitution. The first is the commerce clause, which says Congress may "regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states." The court has relied on the commerce clause to uphold laws including the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Congress also has power under the Constitution to "lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises." The Obama administration says the tax clause provides a second, independent constitutional basis for the law.

The Medicaid issue centers on the Constitution's spending clause, which authorizes Congress "to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States." The Supreme Court has said that provision lets Congress put conditions on federal funds. The states say they are being unlawfully coerced.

When will the court rule?

Mark your calendar for the last week of June. The court typically wraps up its nine-month term at the end of June, and chances are the health-care ruling will be one of the last delivered. While the ruling might come sooner, the justices tend to work on their opinions in the biggest cases until the last possible minute.

Health care law faces three days in court(bbg) (ATTN: National editors) 03/21/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 10:36pm]

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